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God's Love Preserved Jonah

God's Pervasive and Sustaining Love  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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To remember God's steadfast love for us, even when we have been disobedient.

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Seeing the Need/Introduction

God loves us even before we are sorry. Sometimes it may seem as if God is more patient with us than we deserve.

What Does the Bible Say? -

Jonah 2:1–5 NRSV
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?’ The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head
There are Bible passages that tell us that if we repent, God will forgive us. Will God forgive us only if we repent? If we are not sorry, does God not forgive us? Certainly, there are some places that seem to indicate that. In , Paul warns his readers that it is dangerous to claim to follow God and not change their ways.
Some Gospel passages warn that failing to forgive others prevents us from receiving God’s forgiveness. This could be interpreted as our salvation being contingent on us repenting of our anger. It hardly seems fair if people can go on doing bad things without ever being sorry for them and receive forgiveness anyway. The idea that God’s forgiveness is only for people who ask for forgiveness is a core belief for many Christians.
In many instances in the Bible, God gives people second chances without waiting for them to be sorry, seems to be one of those places. In our text does it sound to you like Jonah was sorry about what he had done - or only sorry to have nearly drowned? The writer of our Sunday School lesson says that in his daughter’s Bible, the notes on Chapter 2 say that God tells the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach because Jonah had asked God’s forgiveness for making the wrong choice. But he later states, the only thing he reads Jonah comes close to is expressing sorrow about the possibility of never seeing the Temple again.
The idea that God’s mercy is only for people who ask for forgiveness is a core belief for many Christians.

What Does Jonah Say? -

Jonah 2:5–10 NRSV
The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God. As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.
In last week’s lesson, we saw that Jonah admitted that the storm had been the result of his disobedience, and he accepted the consequences. However, he never apologized to the sailors or to God.
Most of Chapter 2 takes the form of a psalm, a prayer Jonah prayed while he was inside the big fish. It is a prayer of petition, a prayer of thanksgiving, and a bargaining prayer. At no point, however, is it a prayer of confession. Jonah did not admit to wrongdoing. He did not say he was sorry, and he did not ask for forgiveness.
Jonah began his prayer by describing his thoughts and feelings as he was sinking into the sea. As he sank, Jonah was afraid he was going to die, and he asked God to help. Might Jonah have been thanking God in advance for rescuing him from the inside of the fish? Perhaps, but it sounds more like he was thanking God for rescuing him from drowning. If God had not provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, he would indeed have drowned.
God’s “holy temple” - that is, the Temple in Jerusalem - is mentioned twice. Jonah wondered if he would ever see the Temple again. He did not seem so concerned about seeing the Temple when he was fleeing to Tarshish! However, after having a near-death experience and having been reminded of God’s power, his first thought was of the Temple.
What does it mean that Jonah wanted to worship God in the Temple but was not interested in doing what god asked him to do?
Other prophets, such as Amos, warned that God preferred obedience to worship in the Temple. Jonah’s words are conventionally pious, but they do not demonstrate respect for what God wanted from him.
Later, in , Jonah’s words suggest that the place where prayers are heard, no matter where they are offered, is in the Temple in Jerusalem. In this context, when Jonah offered to make a sacrifice to God, he most likely meant a sacrifice in the Temple in Jersualem.
God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh. One might think that a natural response at this point in the story would be for Jonah to say, “I’m sorry, God. I see you were serious, and you really did want me to go to Nineveh. If it is not too late, I will do what you asked and go.” However, this is not what Jonah said. Instead, what Jonah seems to have prayed was, “Thank you, God, for keeping me from drowning in the sea. If I ever get out of this fish, I’m going straight to Jerusalem to offer a proper thank-you in the Temple.”
What makes a prayer a “good prayer?”

What Does God Say?

God rescues Jonah twice in Chapter 2: when God says no to allowing Jonah to drown by providing the fish and when God says no to allowing Jonah to be digested by the fish, instead causing the fish to vomit Jonah on the shore. God says yes to Jonah, miraculously saving him in spite of his rank disobedience.
Why not just let Jonah plummet to the sea floor and recruit someone else to go to Nineveh instead? Why did God five Jonah a second chance?
We must remember that Jonah did not simply “get away with it.” In the next chapter, God’s voice will come to Jonah again, telling him again to go to Nineveh. Jonah was spared a more serious punishment than three days confinement in a fish, but he was not spared the task that God had set before him.
Did Jonah “get what he deserved?”
In his treatment of Jonah, God may be turning this question around. What Jonah deserved may be ultimately less important than what God deserves, and what God deserves is obedience. God gave Jonah a second chance to obey.
Perhaps this is not a story about deserving at all but about God’s love. God’s love is for everyone, even disobedient people. If we are honest, we will admit that we are all disobedient people at times. If God only loved the obedient, there would be no human for God to love.
Maybe being in the belly of a fish would never have stimulated Jonah to repent, no matter how long he was in there. If so, God would have known that. In any case, God did not make Jonah wait in the fish until he was sorry about what he had done.
This does not mean that changing our ways is not important. Being sorry about what we have done and wanting to do better next time make a difference in our ability to understand and accept God’s love and free us to respond to God’s call to us with joy.
Even when other human beings might have given up on us, God never gives up. God continues to love us and gives us second chances, even when no one else thinks we deserve it.
When is it appropriate to have mercy on someone else before they are sorry?

Prayer

Delivering God, you help us out in times of trouble, even when our troubles are of our own making. Why do you love us so much, even when we run away from you or pretend that you are not there? Your love is so great; it is difficult for us to understand. Thank you for giving us second chances so that we may turn and serve you, as you have created us to do; in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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